As previously noted in this space, MLB is planning “The Civil Rights Game”, a March 31 exhibition between the Cards and Indians to take place in Memphis, TN. The New York Daily News’ Filip Bondy, never better looking or as smart as when he’s echoing my sentiments, writes, “the event has been sabotaged by ignorance and long-practiced indifference.”
Who: The Cleveland Indians, a team famous for its Chief Wahoo cartoon caps, will face the St.Louis Cardinals.What: The Civil Rights Game, televised by ESPN, the first of its kind.
When: A particularly dicey time in Cherokee/African-American relations, as the Cherokees consider appeals from the black community after an unfortunate vote to revoke tribal citizenship from descendants of freed slaves.
Where: In Memphis, along the Southern land route of the Trail of Tears, a genocidal, forced march of Cherokees in 1838. The relocation was mandated by President Andrew Jackson, and caused the death of at least 4,000 Indians, many buried in shallow graves. Tens of thousands of Cherokee descendants now live in and around the city.
How this happened: Professional baseball apparently wants to pretend that Native Americans are all dead and don’t matter, like dinosaurs.
“It’s disgusting,” said Alice Gwin Henry, president of the Faraway Cherokees in Memphis. “It tells you where they’re coming from. We try not to be overbearing when it comes to the use of names, but nobody has addressed the Trail of Tears as it’s associated with an abuse of civil rights.
“My family was on the Trail of Tears. We feel offended that they would bring a team here called the Indians. It’s racist. We aren’t gone.”
Chief Wahoo has long been given a tacit go-ahead from Bud Selig, the same commissioner who has done so much in recognizing the contributions of African-Americans and in confessing the past exclusionary policies of baseball. Selig has embraced the legacy of Jackie Robinson and other black pioneers.
Unlike steroid testing or luxury taxes, Chief Wahoo is a very simple issue. Selig could snap his fingers, compensate the Cleveland franchise for lost licensing dollars, and make the logo go away.
The lack of empathy on this issue is truly inexplicable. One race can’t commit genocide against another, then turn that race into a mascot. A soccer team in Hamburg would never call itself the Jews and adorn its uniforms with caricatures. It certainly would never hold a celebratory civil rights game along the trail of a World War II death march.
“Cartoon character imagery like Cleveland’s logo, depicting a wide-smiling Indian, tells other non-Indian people, especially kids, that it’s OK to continue this exploitative mockery,” said Pat Cummins, vice president of the Alliance for Native American Indian Rights of Tennessee. “Native American people have had enough and demand an end to it.”
A spokesperson at Major League Baseball said that logos will be removed from the Indians and Cardinals uniforms for this one game. This is proof the commissioner’s office understands, on some level, that Chief Wahoo is the wrong message.